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Sunday, March 15, 2015

WHY BE AFRAID (Of Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!)

Raise your hand if you like to be scared!  You can’t see me, but not only have I raised my hand, I am waving it back and forth, wiggling in my seat and yelling “Oooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Kott-ah!”  POW!  Just hit you with my first “Welcome Back Kotter” reference ever!  It will not be my last, I promise you that.  Those who know me (or even just read this blog) understand that the Master of Horror himself Stephen King is my #onetruelove and that scary movies and shows like The Walking Dead are second only to my kid when it comes to consistently bringing me joy. 

However, I like being scared only when I am in an entirely safe environment.  Like my bed reading a book, or my couch watching a movie.  So count me out if you are going on one of those crazy ass roller-coasters that flip upside down because I know my karma and my karma says: "Risk it and become a cautionary tale, babe".  The lady-decapitated-on-a-roller-coaster-who-now-tortures-teens-on-lover’s-lane-with-her-hook-for-a-hand, or something like that.  My BFF has a theory that you are either a horror film buff or a roller coaster buff and rarely the twain shall meet.  But I know plenty of people who hate both, and the reason is plain:  they don’t like to be afraid.

The truth is, in small doses, fear is good.  Fear is a useful tool that promotes our survival.  Fear makes us appropriately cautious when faced with a questionable situation. Even sometimes in a situation that isn’t obviously suspect, you get that feeling—your Spidey-senses tingle--and you know to proceed with care because something is not-quite-right.  I remember the days of driving my husband to the train station at 5 o’clock in the morning and the blind left hand turn on the way.  There was a light, but one day the light turned green and I didn’t go.  Just sat there staring stupidly, like I didn’t understand what that meant.  Then, as I slowly came out of my daze and pressed on the gas pedal, a car blew through the red light coming from my blind side.  If I had gone when I was “supposed” to go, he would have smashed right into my side of the car.  How many times have you been saved because you hesitated instead of jumping?  Fear can be our friend.
On the other hand…we are all aware, to some degree or another, of the so-called “culture of fear” perpetuated by the media and people in a position to manipulate the media.  Be terrified by terrorists, ticks and Tim Tebow (haha, sorry Tim for singling you out as a religious zealot!)…be suspicious of strangers, sun-exposure and silly string (shout-out to Darlie Routier, google her name and silly string if you are curious).  You have to wonder how many tragedies could have been pre-empted if Americans didn’t feel the “need” to arm themselves to the teeth, how many roads have been left untraveled for fear of an accident (or lawsuit or just the unknown)?  When I was growing up, we had all this wonderful, dangerous equipment on our playgrounds, we didn’t wear helmets or seatbelts and we drank a lot of punch with red dye #2.  I survived just fine, as did every single kid I knew.  As a matter of fact, the worst injury I sustained as a child, the only scar I bear, was gained from tripping as I walked home from a neighbors…well, I might have been skipping, if I am totally honest about it.  So skipping is very dangerous!  GET THE WORD OUT, it should be BANNED!!!

Our fear reflexes are hard-wired into our systems, much in the same way a dog will turn in a circle before lying to mat down tall grass it no longer sleeps in.  Fear was keyed into our ancestors for far more practical reasons than recognizing potentially harmful spam…there was actually a high probability they could be eaten alive.  Now THAT is something to fear!  And why I never swim in the ocean #thanksalotStevenSpielberg.  But in spite of the great Louis C.K.’s brilliant idea that lions should be released into the streets to cull the herd, as it were, the fact of the matter is the chances of any of us being eaten alive is now statistically insignificant.  Keep those words in your head, “statistically insignificant chance” as you scroll through your list of worries and fears.  “Why worry, it will probably never happen” is not stitch sampler wisdom for nothing, my friends!  When we live our lives in fear of the now totally metaphorical “lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)”, we are missing out on a lot of the best stuff life has to offer.
Freedom from fear is the only kind of freedom that matters, when you get down to it.  You can have all the money in the world, but if you are spending it on guns and security systems, you are not free.  Fear is a jailer that keeps us from our best selves, our best relationships, our best experiences.  Fear causes us to hold our tongues when something important needs to be said.  The oft quoted line, “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral” reminds us that the definitive Hell is a world where we do not speak our truth.  Fear keeps us from reaching out, fear keeps us from taking a shot, it keeps us locked up and tied down and heavily medicated (by self or doctor).  There are no lions in the streets.  There is very little left to be truly afraid of, in a statistically significant way.  Robert H. Schuller famously said (a lot of amazing things and), “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”  Without fear, anything is possible.  Trust your instincts, but roam freely.  You are safe here.

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